Traces of microbes in shallow ice layers may help find life on icy worlds

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Washington, June 26 (ANI): A new research has indicated that living microorganisms and the food that sustained them can be detected in shallow ice layers, which will help find life on icy worlds.

The research is a part of the Project SLIce, which means, Signatures of Life in Ice.

Dominique Tobler and Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA Goddard Space Science Laboratory, and Liane Benning of the University of Leeds, UK, show that not only living micro-organisms, but also traces of long-dead ones, and the food that sustained them can be detected in shallow ice layers, using methods rigorously tested in one of our own planet's most extreme environments.

"With SLIce, we wanted to figure out the nature of the organic matter in ice and how what we find on Earth can be the basis for comparisons with organic matter on Mars," explained Benning.

"The organic matter we find could be alive or dead, representing extant or extinct life, or even the nutrients that made life possible, and we want to identify the biological signals that point towards ice-dwelling life," she added.

The SLIce team went to a glacial region of Svalbard to try taking ice samples in exactly the way it would be done on Mars, using a sequence of procedures and tests that they had developed as part of the AMASE project, a long-running international research program that has established Svalbard as a test bed for planetary exploration.

"We're using sample devices, primarily to be operated from a rover, but we're also testing how we go about taking and testing samples and keeping them separate," said Benning.

"For SLIce, we applied the protocol we had developed to take ice cores, process them and analyze them in the field just as would happen on a rover on Mars, and then of course we took them back to the lab and did a much wider range of tests, so we really knew what we had found," she said.

"There could be microbes living in the ice, but there could also be the dead bodies of microbes that used to live there, and there could be biological molecules that blew in from dust and micrometeorites. We need to identify what we've got, so that we know what it's telling us," she added. (ANI)

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